Accommodation of refugees: “take care of us!”

Refugee women and children still live in secluded homes, criticizes Women in Exile – and recalls the fate of a disappeared woman.

Protest against the scandalous treatment of a disappeared woman in front of the home in Hohenleipisch Photo: Uta Schleiermacher

How secluded and deep in the forest the refugee shelter Hohenleipisch is located in the district Elbe-Elster in the south of Brandenburg, participants of a bus tour could experience firsthand on Monday. The tour bus takes a good three quarters of an hour from the district town of Herzberg, and it will be a two-hour drive to Potsdam later. Supermarkets, the train station and neighboring houses are several kilometers away.

On the occasion of the International Day against Violence against Women, the initiative Women in Exile had invited to the tour to draw attention to the living conditions of women and children in refugee homes in Brandenburg. The initiative also demands justice for Rita Awour Ojunge. The 32-year-old disappeared from the shelter in Hohenleipisch in April. It was not until a search operation in June that police found remains of her body in the forest nearby. Ojunge had been living in the Hohenleipisch shelter for seven years at that point, according to Women in Exile. She left behind two children, aged two and four.

As participants of the tour light candles for Rita in front of the gate to the shelter on Monday, it is already getting dark. Every now and then, a car roars by on the unlit country road. "We have questions, and some of the answers we can only find here," says Elizabeth Ngari of Women in Exile outside the dormitory. "Rita was not safe in this place at any time."

She says the camp management shares responsibility for her presumably violent death; Rita had complained of threats and assaults before she disappeared. "How can it be that her disappearance allegedly went unnoticed for weeks?" asks Ngari, pointing to the locked gate between a heavy iron gate and a cubbyhole where security guards sit. "You can see for yourselves that no one can go in or out without security noticing."

The gate and iron gate will also remain closed during the rally. According to Women in Exile, residents of the shelter would not dare to participate in the rally because they fear repression from shelter management and security. "If Rita were a white woman with white children, she would be in the news every day, and the police would be forced to give us answers faster," says Jennifer Kamau of International Women’s Space Berlin. "Misogyny and racism killed her."

Women in Exile also criticized the treatment of Ojunge’s family. Ojunge’s mother, she says, traveled from Kenya to Germany in September to bury her daughter. Here, it suddenly turned out that this was not yet possible, as the investigations were still ongoing.

The cause of death remains unclear, according to the Cottbus prosecutor’s office.

Martin Vesely of Opferperspektive Brandenburg confirms this: "The public prosecutor’s office had told us in August that the investigations would be completed in September." They would then have helped plan and support the trip of the mother and other relatives.

But then, he says, no more information came from the prosecutor’s office, such as what investigations were still to be conducted. "You can imagine what that did to the family emotionally, to be left in the dark like that," Vesely says. "Mistakes can happen, and everyone understands when investigations take longer. But the fact that the prosecutor’s office didn’t then reach out to the mother or the attorneys to let them know that the funeral couldn’t take place as announced is unacceptable."

Much remains in the dark

This joins the lack of police investigation and the prosecutor’s hesitant handling of the death, he said. The cause of death remains unclear, according to the Cottbus prosecutor’s office in charge. Also to it, how long Ojunge was already dead with the finding of the body remains, no statement can be made. Investigations are still being conducted "in several directions", but there is no urgent suspicion of a crime. The autopsy report was completed only recently.

The approximately 60 participants of the bus tour also criticize the authorities who continue to force women and children to live in shelters for years. With a demonstration from the foreigners authority to the social welfare office in Herzberg, they demand that Hohenleipisch and comparable shelters be closed.

However, the district does not intend to do so. According to spokesman Holger Frankel, 100 people currently live in Hohenleipisch, and there are a total of 132 places in the two buildings. The contract with the current operator expires at the end of the year, according to Frankel, but a new contract award procedure is underway for 2020, which should be completed next week. This contract could then also be extended again for one year at a time.

According to Women in Exile, even the demo and its tour are not welcome in the district. In a conversation beforehand, official representatives suggested that they please reconsider their action, says Ngari. They feared discussions with the AfD. This did not go down well with the organizers. "You should be concerned about us and not about the AfD," said one speaker. Because the isolation for which the authorities are responsible makes it impossible to become part of society. This is also a reason why women easily become victims of violence by people inside or outside the shelters.

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